Review of the matinee performance on 15-06-11 at The Kings Theatre, Glasgow.
Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is currently touring the UK in a new production starring Marti Pellow as the title character/s.
The action takes place in Victorian London, as Dr Henry Jekyll works in his lab to find a solution that will separate the good in a person from the evil, thereby enabling him to eradicate all evil in the world. Mocked by local dignitaries however, Jekyll shuts himself away from society and from his fiancee, Emma, and decides that he must be the participant in his own experiments and Edward Hyde is born.
I find the story intriguing and as a lover of Victorian melodrama, the show certainly held appeal, but I was largely unfamiliar with the music previously. The score is ballad-heavy, a little too ballad-heavy in my opinion (it very much seems to have the idea that ‘All Songs Must End In A Big Note Held As Long As Possible‘), but thankfully there is more variation to be had in the ensemble numbers. The ensemble in this production are very strong and it is a pleasure to be able to sit in the stalls and pick out each voice in songs such as ‘Façade’ and ‘Murder, Murder’. Similar ensemble numbers ‘Bitch, Bitch, Bitch’ and ‘Bring on the Men’ bring literal and metaphorical colour to Act One and are very well executed.
Bricusse’s lyrics are disappointing however, rhyming couplets (or sometimes triplets!) are very much the order of the day here, you will undoubtedly be able to guess the rhyme before the sentences end and this comes across as unimaginative and dare I say it, a bit dull. Sweeney Todd this is not.
One performance in particular stands out as adding some vital spark and energy into proceedings and that is the performance of Sabrina Carter as London prostitute, Lucy. Undoubtedly the best character in the show, Carter relishes her moments to shine, she is feisty where required but has a vulnerability and yearning that the audience immediately empathise with . As Dr Jekyll’s fiancee Emma Carew, Sarah Earnshaw is also impressive and it is a shame that her character is not able to develop more. Both Carter and Earnshaw have terrific voices, that combine to make their duet ‘In His Eyes’ my personal highlight of the show.
I’m sure you have noticed that I am yet to comment on the performance of Pellow as the dual personalities and the simple reason for that is that I’m not sure I ultimately have the heart to be a critic! It is a shame, but Pellow is simply not up to the job of what is a very complicated role. It did not bode well when his delivery of his opening lines ‘Goodbye, Father’ made me involuntarily giggle and it was not the only unintentionally funny moment in the show. For the first forty-five minutes as Dr Jekyll (timing is an estimate, it honestly could be anything!), Pellow was wooden and sadly didn’t inject any personality into the Dr at all. I enjoyed his performance as Hyde much more, because at least it felt like he was making a genuine effort, but I never felt he acted through the songs. He seemed to struggle with his breath control and diction and it is no coincidence that the most ‘pop’ style song, 'This Is The Moment', was his strongest number, although it was sung as if in concert rather than in character.
If the point of his casting was to bring in the crowds, Pellow certainly did so, and those standing at the end of a near sold-out matinee would certainly attest to his appeal. If that is his sole purpose, then his casting has been a success. I do think Pellow is a likeable guy and the way he deferred to Carter and Earnshaw at curtain call indicates he is well aware who saves this show.
Overall, despite my criticisms, it was an enjoyable show, made so by the performances of the two leading ladies and the quality of the ensemble. Pellow’s performance was enjoyable too in some ways, although perhaps not the ways in which he intended. Jekyll & Hyde is yet to have a truly successful production on these shores, and though this tour may be a commercial success it will go down in my eyes as a bit of a missed opportunity.